Winter garden star Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’: Plant of the Month

The winter garden just isn’t complete without the lean mean perfume machine that is Sarcococca! Also known as Sweet Box (a name which is much easier on the tongue!) this fantastic evergreen shrub is easy to grow, versatile and one of very few winter fragrances for the garden. It’s a crime that most gardens don’t have at least a small patch of this sweet gem!

Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ is a very new variety of Sweet Box, which has been bred in England to provide a handsome bushy plant which will bring the winter garden to life. Before now, Sarcococca have been slightly clumsy-looking plants, but ‘Winter Gem’ ensures a better density of shoots and a compact habit. It has become a feature plant all of its own, not just another shrub for mixing into the border. When grown in a container, Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ looks just as handsome as Box (Buxus), but with many more benefits, not just that powerful scent!

Winter Garden Stars!
Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ demands closer inspection!

Flowers for the winter garden

The flowers on Sarcococca are achingly beautiful, as they nestle in that high-gloss evergreen foliage. You’ll first notice clusters of sexy red buds, which soon pop open to reveal little firecrackers, pre-loaded with a perfume to transform your winter garden. The fragrance is often described as sweet jasmine, and it’s even more enhanced in the chilled winter air. With those blossoms persisting from February to April, you’ll still be enjoying this plant in the spring too, it could even be paired with some pretty primroses and pansies.

How was this plant created?

With more than 35 years experience with tree and shrub stalwarts Hillier Nurseries, Peter Moore is a man who knows the shrub market inside out, so could easily identify any potential gaps. Peter recognised the shortfalls of the usual Sarcococca (Sweet Box) and set about a plan to make some improvements. Peter brought together Sarcococca humilis and Sarcococca hookeriana to create ‘Winter Gem’, a handsome plant with unrivalled flower power for the winter garden.

Peter made the first hybridisation in 2005 by removing all the male flowers from the mother plant and then carefully transferring the pollen from father plant onto those female flowers. Just 5 seeds set on the plant, which were promptly covered to protect them from inquisitive birds! The seeds were sown in the autumn and had germinated by christmas! During it’s first year, Peter could see that one of the seedlings was something really quite special…

What’s different about this plant?

In the past, Sarcococca have always been on sale in garden centres, but they aren’t the most tidy plants on the shelf, so would often be overlooked. Plants would sometimes comprise just a few wispy shoots, and of varying lengths.

Whilst they had beautiful scented blossoms, they certainly weren’t the best looking member of the boy band…

However, ‘Winter Gem’ changed all that. The tighter habit of the plants and increased density of stems means neater plants which resemble Buxus more closely, thus becoming more versatile for garden use.

Winter Garden Stars!
Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ makes a devilishly handsome border plant!

Plants are really quite tough and resilient, and untroubled by pest and diseases that can strike in the home garden. With The right consideration, Sarcococca can grow in sun or shade. The key to success is a good, moist, but well-drained soil, particularly important in a sunny spot. Pruning is a simple light trim after flowering each year.

Where can you plant Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’?

Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ won’t just help your winter garden to shine, it will illuminate the garden all year round! The dense canopy of foliage on this plant lends itself well to ground cover use in borders, or a low 75cm (30”) hedge by the pathway. When you walk along a winter path planted with Sarcococca, you’ll be reminded that there’s still life in a winter garden, for sure! Shrubs in containers are also becoming more and more popular, and this Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ is the perfect addition to that category.

Winter Garden Stars!
Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ is the star of the patio!

Where can you buy this plant?

It’s great news for gardeners that Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ excelled in the trialling process, and has been available to home gardeners for a few years now. The plant was launched at the National Plant Show in June 2014 to a great fanfare, and quickly catapulted Sarcococca into the premier league of shrubs!

Plants are available in garden centres across Europe, or by mail order from here.

Winter Garden Stars!
Sarcococca humilis ‘Winter Gem’ will have you burying your nose in deep!
How to grow Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’:

Flowering time: February to April
Location: Border, hedging, patio pots
Soil: Moist, but well-drained
Light: Partial shade (or sun if soil stays moist)
Hardy: Survives down to -15C! Plant will come back every year.
Care: Very easy pruning, just trim as required, after flowering
Size: 75cm (30”) high x 60cm (24″) in spread

Plant of the Month is sponsored by Plantipp, a company based in The Netherlands who handle the introduction of new plants into Europe (with Concept Plants doing the same job in North America). Sarcococca ‘Winter Gem’ was bred by Peter Moore, discover more of his creations here.

See every Plant of the Month here.

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